The chances are that if you are a football fan you are fully aware that the living football legend Lionel Messi turned 30 over the weekend. His sheer influence on the game meant that this landmark birthday grabbed headlines at a time when there is no competitive club football to report on. The issue when looking back at Messi’s time in football is that you could probably write a lengthy book on his achievements.
It was all the way back in 2001 when Leo signed for the Spanish giants. The first team squad at that time was star studied. Rivaldo, Patrick Kluivert and Frank de Boer were all regulars but the Catalan club only managed a fourth place finish, 17 points behind feared and hated Real Madrid. After issues surrounding the transfer and his growth hormone treatment Leo became a regular player for the Braca youth team known as ‘The Baby Dream Team’ where he played along side Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique. His first full season saw him score over a goal a game finishing with 36 in 30 appearances.
After a rapid progression through Barcelona’s rigorous youth training set up Messi signed his first senior team contract in 2005. He made his La Liga debut just before this replacing Deco in a game away at Espanyol at the age of 17. Messi showed glimpses in his brief appearance of what was to come. He had played before in a friendly against Porto and impressed.
2005/06 saw him make 26 appearances scoring nine and setting up 8. Barca won the league that year and Messi formed a great working partnership with Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o. Messi missed the Champions League final against Arsenal were Barcelona claimed the trophy. He also missed the back end of the domestic season with the injury.
No trophies in the next two years saw Frank Rijkaard lose his job. Messi had a solid two seasons in the first team. He had played regularly and scored and assisted. Still only a young player his contribution to the team was unbelievable. What was to happen in the next few years was on a different level though.
Replacing Barcelona’s outgoing Dutch manager was club legend Pep Guardiola. The man who had a huge effect on Barca and their Argentinian magician. Pep made drastic changes. Stars like Lillian Thuram, Deco and Ronaldinho left the club. Ronaldinho’s departure left a space for the still young Messi to thrive. Taking the number 10 shirt Messi fired the club to the treble. Performance after performance and 38 goals in 51 games shoved him above every other footballer and into a category of his own. A 70th minute header from Lionel put the result out of doubt, Manchester United beaten 2-0 in Rome and Barcelona are the champions of Europe.
From that season on Barcelona and their star man grew and grew. The next season they retained La Liga and won a host of trophies; the UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup and the Spanish Super Cup all found their way to their trophy cabinet. They fell in the semi’s of the Champions League to Inter Milan, the eventual winners. Messi again scored and assisted consistantley, recording 49 goals and 14 assists. A league and Champions League double followed the next season with Messi again starring. 55 appearances saw him score 53 times and set up 28. He again scored in the Champions League final against United in a 3-1 win.
The season after saw them slip into second place in La Liga and not defend their title in the Champions League. They won the Copa Del Rey and the same three trophies they won earlier (UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup and the Spanish Super Cup). It was not enough to keep Guardiola at the club. He blamed exhaustion as the reason he was leaving at the time. The season for Lionel Messi however was unbelievable. 60 games, 73 goals and 35 assists. A campaign that saw him win one of his 5 Ballon d’Or awards it was perhaps his best season in every regard.
We could carry on talking about Messi’s statistics and how he posts incredible amounts of goals and assists but it would take all day. The fact remains this was the best season in a great career for Lionel Messi. Personally for sure, not for Barcelona as a club, his performances throughout the season were probably the best ever from an individual. That is not to say the success or performance of the man since then has not been out of this world. In fact the Neymar era at the Camp Nou has breathed new life into the club and with a matured and more cultured Lionel Messi they have been unstoppable. His rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo is a nother vital part of his career. But it will be the Guardiola period at Barcelona which is one of the most entertaining and dominant in football history that made Messi the complete player he is today.
Will Messi continue to shock the world with his outrageous ability in years to come? Of course he will. His game has changed slightly over the years, but his low centre of gravity, balance, agility, football brain and left foot all signal that even though he is ageing his powers are not weakening. Is he in decline? Not really. Last season he scored over 50 times showing that he is as good as ever. Messi embodies the modern day Barcelona and he has done so much for the club. It will be a pleasure we are sure watching him next season, and a few more after that.